Dan Levy wins 2011 Young Hollywood Comedian of the Year
As a member of the Half Pint Players, Dan Levy began his career in comedy at a very young age. Performing sketches and improvisational drills in Stamford, Connecticut led to Levy enrolling at Emerson College, where he quickly began doing stand-up around Boston and would find success touring colleges while still enrolled himself.
He would later win “Funniest College Comedian in America” at the 2001 Aspen Comedy Festival, an award that helped jump start his career and land him production deals with E! Entertainment Television and MTV. These days when’s not headlining clubs across the country, or opening for Aziz Ansari, Levy regularly appears on Chelsea Lately while also prepping for the August release of his debut album for Comedy Central Records, Congrats on Your Success!
SanDiego.com had a chance to talk with Levy as he prepared to accept the 2011 Young Hollywood Award for “Comedian of the Year” and discussed some of his regrettable fashion choices as a young comic, and what it was like filming E!’s hit show, Pretty Wild.
Are you nervous about the ceremony tonight?
Dan Levy: I’m a little nervous just because I’m going to perform. I’m going there and I’m going to perform 7-10 minutes in front of like, a bunch of famous young people; it’s going to be hilarious. Then I get an award. It’ll be fun, I’m excited about it.
Are you doing new and topical material or is this stuff you’ve got in your pocket?
DL: This is like my favorite jokes, and then obviously, I’m going to make a joke or two about the situation.
You’re going to talk about Jersey Shore?
DL: I’m not going to talk about Jersey Shore, but I will have to mention the fact that I’m performing in front of the twins from the Facebook movie, and the other people who I won’t know their names because I don’t live on Perez Hilton dot com.
What’s the official title of the award you’re winning?
DL: The Young Hollywood Award for Best Comedian.
Were you up against any other comics or was this just a voting process?
DL: I think it was a voting process, and I know last year Whitney Cummings won.
What were the Half Pint Players?
DL: The Half Pint Players was like a community theatre sketch comedy group. We’d have improv classes and then we would write and do a little cabaret show.
Do you remember the first time you got up onstage to perform?
DL: I think it was like when I was honestly like 12 or something, when I was doing improv at a workshop. And the improv game was, you’re at the beach and I said something like, “Look at those babes.” And I got a huge laugh, and I was like, ‘Aw, yeah I’m killing!’ I said, “Look at those babes,” and it’s been comedy ever since. Ironically that’s still my closer, “Look at those babes! Goodnight!”
Did you go into Emerson knowing about the comedy workshop there?
DL: Yeah I was aware, but honestly wasn’t that aware until I got accepted into it. Then I started figuring everything out. I wanted to get a degree in visual media arts. I’ve always been interested in some sort of show business since I was younger. I’ve been doing all this theatre and I always kind of new that’s what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, so I think my first year I was a film major, and then once I got into Emerson, I did the open mic and then I just started and did not stop going to open mics for 2 years.
Do you remember that first time on the open mic?
DL: The first time I did stand-up was at Dick Doherty’s Comedy Vault, and I wore like a matching blue Adidas outfit, and I do not know why I wore that outfit. I thought it was cool; I was wrong. I had lots of terrible wardrobe choices throughout my years of stand-up. Now I feel like I’m dressing well, but there was a period of where I also wore a blue velvet blazer onstage that was extra, extra large. That was probably my worst period; that was 2000 – 2001. Then I went through the turtleneck sweater phase. The first time, I went onstage and performed really, really fast because I talk so fast anyways, and no one laughed because I didn’t pause, and then I got off stage and then that was it. I was like, ‘I just bombed; it was terrible. But it’s gotta get better than that!’ So I just kept on going. I’ve been obsessed with stand-up for so long I just got super into it and was going to shows and watching shows and go by myself and watch the headliners. I remember I bought a ticket to see Jon Stewart and Jay Mohr and all these guys and I would go and just watch by myself. It was so pathetic.
What was it like winning funniest college comedian in Aspen at such a young age?
DL: I think it was the second semester of sophomore year. Yeah it was pretty crazy, that was safe to say probably the best comedy experience of my life. Because I had no expectations, I had never experienced anything like this before; and to go into those festivals completely excited and not jaded, is something you can never get back. I remember walking up to Billy Crystal and the Wayans brothers and Steve Martin and being like, “Hi! I’m a comedian. I’m here,” and everyone was just like, so nice. But it was just really funny because I would never do that now, but I didn’t know any better and I didn’t care and that was the best thing. I went to every single show, it was super fun.
Would say winning that award in Aspen helped jumpstart your career?
DL: Yeah that was the beginning of getting agents and getting a manager; I came to L.A. for the first time that summer. That was kind of how everything sort of started.
What was your evolution from funniest college comedian to headliner status?
DL: I got lucky in 2004, I had a very short-lived show on MTV called Your Face or Mine and then an even shorter-lived show on MTV, but because of that time period I was able to have enough time where someone at a B level club booked me as a headliner so I was able to get in. Basically first semester senior year I was doing college shows with NACA, like I was literally leaving school to do NACA conferences. So I was headlining all these colleges and wasn’t really in the comedy clubs, except for like featuring and stuff. Once I had this show I was able to get into some of these clubs and from that point on I was able to hold on to them.
When you headline how much time are you doing?
DL: About 50 minutes.
Out of that 50, how much of it is riffing or crowd work?
DL: I honestly don’t do any crowd work, I mean I do sometimes and I enjoy it. I just have my set list and I do it, and then if people scream stuff out I’ll talk to them. Honestly this past year and half I’ve been performing a lot with Aziz Ansari, and his shows we’re in theatres, so all the talking to the crowd shit doesn’t happen. So doing all those shows so much eliminated even the thought of doing crowd work. I really love Go Bananas, this club in Cincinnati, it’s awesome; really low ceilings and like super intimate. In those kinds of places sometimes it’s fun to, but I don’t have a go-to-section in my set list like, ‘Now talk to the crowd.’ but I think it’s fun.
How did you become an executive producer for Pretty Wild?
DL: I was shooting a pilot for MTV based on a stand-up joke called, “Long Distance Relationship” and while we were shooting the pilot I met these girls who were extras and basically they told me that their mom used to be in Playboy and that they’re home schooled. So then what I did is I went and I filmed them and put together a little reel of how ridiculous and funny their life is, then we sold it, and what happened was during the pilot the girls were arrested because they didn’t tell us that they were burglars. So then it became a completely different show. It was supposed to be a hilarious comedy show, and it ended up being like an episode of Law and Order. So I wasn’t involved towards the end at all, because it just spiraled completely out of control. But it’s a hilarious story.
When’s your comedy album going to come out?
DL: The album got pushed back, it’s now coming out August 16th, and it’s going to be on Comedy Central Records; it’s called, Congrats on Your Success! We’re going to be doing a promotional tour with it in the fall and it’s pretty awesome. I recorded it at Comedy Works in Denver a few months ago. That’s probably my favorite club; that and Go Bananas. Again, it’s kind of like the low ceilings and just a great weekend. I was working on all this new material, because there’s maybe like 2 or 3 jokes from my Comedy Central Presents on the album. So it’s really all new and I’m pretty proud of it. It’s been a whole process of; I just hate all my jokes. I can’t listen to them anymore.
How often do you get up during the week when you’re in L.A.?
DL: Like this week I was at The Improv 4 nights and The Comedy Store 1 night. It’s really up to me, because what happens with me sometimes is I’ll get back from being on the road and I’ll be so exhausted and be like, ‘I hate comedy, I can’t perform.’ and then I just won’t go out. Now I’m in town for a little while and I’m not going on the road for a little bit so I’m just performing as much as I could because I’m not sick of hating my jokes so much.
Does Dan Levy have a message for the children?
DL: Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with.
The Young Hollywood Awards air Thursday May 26 at 9 p.m. on ION Television.